South Africa's Zuma to be tried for corruption

Newly-elected ANC president says prosecutors are trying to smear him for political reasons.

Zuma 224 (photo credit: AP)
Zuma 224
(photo credit: AP)
The newly elected president of the ruling African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, has been ordered to stand trial on charges of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud, his lawyer said Friday. Zuma will be tried in the High Court in August, said his lawyer, Michael Hulley. Tlali Tlali, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, would not comment. Zuma, 65, defeated South African President Thabo Mbeki last week in a bitterly contested election for the leadership of the party. His victory could put him in line to be South Africa's next president when Mbeki's term expires in 2009. Charges against Zuma were thrown out last year on a technicality. But last week the country's top prosecutor said he had enough evidence to bring charges against Zuma again - an announcement that overshadowed Zuma's victory over Mbeki. Zuma, a popular former guerrilla fighter, was acquitted of rape last year. He has denied any corruption and has said prosecutors are trying to smear him for political reasons. In a harshly worded statement e-mailed to the Associated Press, Hulley questioned the timing of the indictment and accused prosecutors of acting "with improper motive calculated to discredit" Zuma. "The timing is calculated to quickly redress the popular support and call to leadership of the ANC which Mr. Zuma's election so obviously demonstrates," he said. Hulley said the summons directing Zuma to appear in court was delivered to his residence in Johannesburg while he was away. Hulley did not provide details of the charges. But the counts of racketeering and money laundering appear to be new. Mbeki fired Zuma as the country's deputy president in 2005 after Zuma's financial adviser was convicted of trying to elicit bribes. Prosecutors contend that Zuma was aware of efforts by his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, to secure Zuma yearly payments of 500,000 rands (US$70,000) from the French arms company Thint Holdings to deflect corruption investigations into a large South African arms deal. The investigations centered on a 52.7 billion rand (US$7.1 billion) deal to buy ships, submarines, helicopters, jets and other arms in 1999. Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption last year and sentenced to 15 years in prison.